NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Tips on Getting Along as a Couple During the COVID-19 Crisis

Although being alone and feeling lonely during the COVID-19 crisis is challenging, being in a relationship where you're both staying in your home for long periods of time together can also be challenging (see my article: The Challenge of Keeping Small Arguments From Becoming Big Arguments and Telltale Signs That You and Your Spouse Are Growing Apart).

The sudden shift to all day/all night togetherness can put even the best relationship under a strain (see my articles: Coping and Staying Calm During the PandemicCommon Reactions to the Crisis: Fear and Anxiety and Grieving Losses During the Crisis).

Tips on Getting Alone as a Couple During the COVID-19 Crisis

Depending upon the relationship, couples are responding differently, but most couples are finding it difficult to deal with the shift to being around each other all the time.

Some couples that were already experiencing a strain in their relationship before the pandemic are finding it even more stressful to be around each other.  Other couples have put aside their differences for now to focus on what they need to do to get through the current crisis.

Many couples will go through different experiences at different times.  Couples that are getting along now might not get along well over time due to the ongoing strain of the crisis and vice versa.

It's not unusual for individuals in a relationship to want different things with regard to time together vs time apart, and this is especially true now (see my article: Learning to Compromise About Time Together vs Time Apart).

In addition, when you live together, there are always other issues that need negotiating.

Whether you're currently having problems in your relationship or not, it's a good idea to anticipate and be prepared for possible problems before they occur.

Potential Problems For Couples During the Pandemic:
With the pandemic, there can be unique issues to deal with that affect the health and well-being of both people, including:
  • What to Do If One Person Gets the Coronavirus:
    • In the event that one person becomes infected, both people will need to decide how to handle this.  
    • The dilemma is that the person who is sick would probably need help to get through the illness. But the uninfected person would be fearful of getting the virus.
    • A consultation with your doctor is best.  
  • Whether to Stay in NYC or Leave Temporarily to Go to a Second Home (if possible)
    • Each person might have different feelings about whether to stay or leave, if they're fortunate enough to have a second home that they can go to temporarily. 
    • One person might prefer to stay in New York City and the other person might prefer to leave. They will have to negotiate and might need to compromise about this. 
  • How Much Space and Privacy to Give Your Partner
    • Different people need varying degrees of alone time. Some people like to be with their partner most if not all the time.  
    • If their partner doesn't feel that way, the person who wants to be together most or all the time can feel rejected.  
    • Other people need their own space and privacy to have a sense of well-being.  
    • If you're living in an apartment that's large enough, this can often be negotiated.  But most New York City apartments aren't large so both people might feel too confined in a small space.
  • How to Negotiate Childcare Responsibilities 
    • If a couple is accustomed to normally having childcare either in a daycare or with an nanny whose services are no longer available, they need to figure out how to negotiate childcare responsibilities. 
    • Older children will, obviously, still need parental care and guidance, but they can be more independent.
    • Younger children will need more time and attention, including help with online schoolwork.
    • Will each parent can take turns and give the other parent a break? Will they divide up the tasks or come up with some other way?
    • If a couple already has differences in terms of childrearing, going through this health crisis can highlight those differences and make things worse.
  • Differences in Cleaning Standards Around the Home 
    • Many couples already have differences to negotiate around cleaning standards.  One peron might be neater and want to clean more often, and the other person might be a lot more relaxed about it.  
    • With the current health crisis, there can also be issues around what and how much to disinfect.
  • Whether to Go to the Grocery Store or Order Grocery Online (if possible)
    • Most people are trying to minimize their time outdoors, so one person might prefer to order grocery online and the other might prefer to go to the store.  
    • The person who wants to order online might have concerns about his/her coming into contact with other people in the grocery store as well as having concerns about the partner's exposure to others.
  • Whether to Order Takeout
    • This issue is similar to whether or not to go to the grocery store.  
    • Some people prefer not to cook.  Others feel safer cooking their own food.
  • Whether to Wear Masks Outside or Not (the latest recommendations from the CDC as of the writing of this article)
    • There has been some recent confusion about this.  Originally, people in the US were told that there was no need to wear a mask.  Now CDC is recommending the wearing of masks, but they're not mandating it.
    • One person might feel strongly that wearing a mask is important, while the other person might not want to wear a mask.  This creates a potential problem because the person who feels strongly about a mask might worry that the partner who doesn't want to wear a mask is putting each of them at risk.
  • How to Have Quality Time, Fun and Socialize While Practicing Social Distancing
    • Couples who are accustomed to socializing in person with friends and loved ones might feel at a loss about how to socialize with the new requirement for social distancing.  
    • One partner might enjoy socializing online and the other partner might not.
And so on.

Tips on Getting Along as a Couple During the Pandemic
There are no right answers to the dilemmas that couples face during the pandemic, but here are some tips that might help, which will require some flexibility, compromise and negotiation:
  • Create a Routine and Structure Your Day
    • Since both of your routines have been upended, it's important for a couple to come up with a rough schedule for how they will spend their days.  
    • Each person might have different needs, so that will need to be taken into account.
  • Make Time For Alone Time
    • Make time for time apart to work, nap, talk to friends on the phone or online, read, meditate, watch a program the other person doesn't like or engage in other solo activities.  
    • Try to be respectful of your partner's need for time apart so that when you come together again you'll feel ready to be in each other's company.
  • Learn to Communicate With Each Other Effectively 
    • Over time, nerves can get frayed.  One or both of you is bound to either get inpatient or lose your temper.  Expect it (see my article: Learn How to Communicate More Effectively in Your Relationship). 
    • Learn how to take responsibility for your words and behavior and make amends with your partner as soon as you can.  
    • Pick your battles.  
      • Don't argue over small issues.  It's better to let some things go sometimes rather than arguing about them.
    • Tell your partner if you need time to regroup after an argument. 
      • It's not unusual for one person to want to work things out immediately and for the other person to need time to cool off first.  
      • If you're the person who wants to work things out immediately, recognize that if your partner isn't ready to do it and you push to do it, you'll probably continue to argue, and your partner will resent you.  
      • If you're the person who needs time to cool down before you talk, let your partner know about how long you'll need so it doesn't feel endless to them, and don't stonewall (see my article: Are You a Stonewaller?).
    • Remember to express your love and gratitude to your partner (see my article: The Importance of Expressing Gratitude To Your Spouse).
  • Find Meaningful Ways to Connect
    • One of the biggest complaints that couples often have under normal circumstances is that they barely see each other during the week because of their busy work schedules and then on weekends they feel too exhausted.
    • If you have more time now, talk to your partner about how you would like to spend your time together in a way that's meaningful and enjoyable.
    • This could include:
      • Spending more time having sex and discovering new things that you both want to do sexually, possibly including a willingness to explore new ways of being together and enjoying each other sexually.
      • Redecorating your home
      • Learning a new game
      • Learning a new language together
      • Talking about future plans, including travel plans when it's safe to travel again 
      • Reading aloud to each other
      • Listening to a podcast together
      • Watching a movie you've always wanted to see
And so on.

Getting Help in Couples Therapy
Despite your best efforts, you and your partner might find that getting along during the pandemic
highlights problems that you've had all along that you've never dealt with before.

Even if you got along well before, the stresses and strains involved with too much time together at home, a change in your routine, the loss of things you used to do outside, and the unknowns involved with the pandemic and economy are threatening your relationship.

If you can't work things out on your own, rather than watching the demise of your relationship, you could benefit from atending couples therapy.

Many therapists, including me, are providing individual and couples therapy online (also known as teletherapy, telemental health and telehealth) while they're out of their offices (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't See Your Therapist in Person).

Rather than allowing your problems to destroy your relationship, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who works with couples.  It could save your relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP,  Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I have worked with individual adults and couples for over 20 years.

I'm providing online therapy (also known as teletherapy, telemental health and telehealth) during the pandemic.

Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT) is the therapy I use to work with couples. EFT is one of the best effective and well-researched therapy to help couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.